Still a perfect couple

Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Hard as it seems to believe after 17 years of vocationally wedded bliss, there was a time when long-term care and I weren't together. It's sobering to consider.

Sometimes at sunset, as we stroll hand in hand down the beach, we look deep into each other's eyes and think, “We're clearly a perfect match. Why didn't we find each other sooner?” 

But like any wise and grateful couple, we choose not to dwell on the wasted time that came before. Being connected now is important. 

So what caught my eye and drew me helplessly to this profession? It wasn't just physical, as many of the buildings and systemic structures were in a sorry state. It was something deeper — that wonderful, intangible attribute called “the people.”  

That's still what attracts me, what fuels my sense of purpose. In any relationship, it's disturbingly easy to get caught in daily tedium and minutia, losing sight of what's important. But get me out in a facility, asking caregivers why they do what they do, and I fall in love all over again.

Their answers are almost always the same — it would be boring if it weren't so inspiring. Pressed for motivations, a nurse or CNA is virtually guaranteed to say, “Because I love my residents, and will need this kind of help myself someday.” It seldom gets more complicated than that. 

Long-term care people get the way the world works, how we're all connected and desperately dependent on each other. Every day they see the suffering and impermanence inherent in life itself, and open their hearts. Even when it hurts.

That's why I love this profession.  

I recently interviewed an elderly couple who had already been together 69 years, had no regrets and planned to savor every moment they had left. Later, back on the beach at sunset, long-term care and I looked fondly at each other and said, “With a little luck, that's going to be us.”